Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Marianna Resident Meets the Union Navy

By Dale Cox

The following account of Marianna resident Eli Moore’s encounter with the Union navy at St. Andrew Bay was written in 1862 by Miss Sarah Jones (pseudonym of Catherine Cooper Hopley). An English tutor hired to serve on the Sylvania plantation of Governor John Milton near Blue Spring, she witnessed many incidents of life in Jackson County during the Civil War period.

“A resident of Marianna had gone down to St. Andrew’s Bay to fit up temporary salt-works, in order to make enough for his own family use. Such practices were becoming common wherever persons lived in the neighborhood of the coast. Another gentleman contemplated establishing works, large enough to supply one of the midland towns, where he had been offered as much as ninety dollars a barrel!

“Our Marianna adventurer’s salt-works became known to the enemy, parties of whom were in the habit of landing for predatory excursions along the coast. One day a skirmishing party arrived on the shore, and coming up to the place, asked him what he was doing there.

“Mr. [Eli] Moore told them.

“‘How much are you making?’ asked the captain, ‘and for whom? Is it for sale? Is it for the Government? Is any one else making salt about here? Who? How far off? How long have they been making it? How long have you been engaged in this business?’

“All of which questions were replied to by the saltmaker.

“The Federal captain then expressed a wish to see the other works, but Mr. Moore hesitated, and made some excuses about the distance, and so forth.

“‘But I want to see them – I insist on it; or I will order my men to destroy these works of yours immediately,’ said the captain.

“The prudent salt-maker still hesitated, and pleaded the inconvenience of leaving his business; but upon the Federal captain becoming furious, and threatening to shoot him down on the spot, he changed his tone, and said in a sort of confidential manner, ‘Well, to tell the truth, there is a horse company (cavalry) not far from here, and I thought, may be, you’d rather not tumble up against them.’

“The captain suddenly recollected that he had an engagement which compelled his immediate return, and cried out, ‘Turn about, boys! – march!’ to his men; adding to the family salt-maker, ‘Well, well! I have not time to go so far to-day; but mind you do not make any salt for the rebel Government. I do not object to your making a little for yourself, but you must be quick about it; we shall not permit you to be here long.’

“By this pardonable ruse, Mr. Moore saved not only his own, but his neighbour’s salt-works, both of them making the most of the time their federal masters allowed to their sovereign subjects.”

Note: This and other accounts of life in Jackson County during the Civil War years are among the stories found in the new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. The book is available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online by clicking the ad at left.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chipola River could once block traffic for weeks!

The rains and high water we have seen this winter reminds me of stories I have heard and read from the early history of Jackson County, when rivers and creeks were much great barriers to travel than they are today.

The Spanish, for example, visited the county in 1674-1675, 1677 and 1693. They usually followed the real "old Spanish trail," a footpath that led from the Apalachicola River near today's Sneads northwest across the county along a line that took it just north of Grand Ridge to Blue Spring and on to the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River at Florida Caverns State Park.

Most of their surviving accounts describe few problems in their travels, but in 1693 they found the water running high and it caused major difficulties for them. At the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River, for example, they described water and mud that reached the girths of their horses. As still happens today, so much water was coming down the Chipola that it overflowed the sink where the river normally goes underground and flooded the bridge itself.

The Chipola, in fact, would continue to cause problems for more than 200 years to come. By the time of the Civil War, for example, an open wooden bridge spanned the river at Marianna, but during high water the entire structure would be submerged. This meant a total halt to mail and other communication with the county seat, as English tutor Sarah Jones, who lived on Governor Milton's Sylvania Plantation, described in 1862:

When we arrived at the swamp near the Chipola, which flows into the Chattahoochie [i.e. Apalachicola], the water was up to the spokes of the wheels, and when we returned, less than two hours afterwards, the water had risen more than half a foot. “It is just nine days since any mail left this place,” said the postmaster, “and the river is rising now, so there will be no chance of sending for a week or two.” And no chance of obtaining the mail either!

Jones related that the postmaster would often throw away all but the most recent newspapers to save postal patrons the "trouble" of reading old news. The river would continue to cause such problems almost annually until the elevation of the bridge was finally raised in the years after the Civil War.

To read more of Miss Jones' descriptions of Jackson County during the Civil War, please consider my new book The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. It is available through Amazon by clicking the link here or can be purchased in downtown Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea on Lafayette Street across from the Battle of Marianna monument. You can read more about the Natural Bridge of the Chipola at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/floridacaverns.